Gallows, Ghosts and Guns: Mugdock Country Park’s intriguing past (part 1)

Mugdock Castle at the heart of Mugdock County Park

There’s a wonderful passage in Paul Gallico’s book The Adventures of Hiram Holliday where Hiram speaks of ‘…the cries of history that swirled up around him, rising, seemingly from every crack in the pavement.’  I love the idea that the history of a particular place can be felt like that, almost as if it were echoing up through the soles of your feet. And no matter where you go, you’ll always find landscapes rich with tales of the past.

Mugdock County Park, north of Glasgow, is no exception. From the northern boundaries of Milngavie to the edge of Dumbrock Moor and the Campsie Fells, the park covers an area of 260 hectares that is rich in wildlife, plant life and history.  Go for a visit, and it won’t be long before you begin to understand some if its intriguing past.

The mighty tower of Mugdock Castle

Perhaps the most visible evidence of the past lives of the people of this area is Mugdock Castle itself. No one knows exactly how old this once formidable stronghold is, though it must have existed at least as far back as the 14th century for a document relating to the castle – an agreement over land between the castle’s owner, Sir Patrick Graham, and one Angus Hawinroyss – was signed there on the 24th of August, 1372.

Over the years the Grahams extended their lands and the estate prospered, becoming both a centre for regular markets and fairs, and also the seat of the Barony court, where ‘justice’ would be meted out. If you were tried and found guilty in the Courthall of the castle what happened next?  Where would be your fate be determined?  Read on!

During the Dark Ages and Medieval times Mugdock Loch was far larger and deeper than it is today. On a small island, only a few hundred yards from the castle, was the Moot Hill, or Hill of Judgement. It was on this spot that the unfortunate criminal would hear his sentence: seldom a happy one!  In many cases it would be straight back across the causeway and over to the grimly named Gallowhill for execution.

A reconstruction of a crannog (c) Education Scotland

A reconstruction of a crannog (c) Education Scotland

In earlier times Moot Hill was home to Bronze Age and Iron age crannogs, dwellings built out on the water for protection from enemies. Some were reached by circuitous stone paths hidden just below the surface of the water, others by wooden or stone causeways above the water, linking the crannog to the shore. Gallowhill too has many archaeological remains and may have housed a large Iron Age fort or even a village.

Next to Gallowhill was the equally fearsome Drowning Pond, where unfortunate women accused of witchcraft were forcibly held under water: if you drowned you were innocent, if you survived you were guilty and burned at the stake. A lose-lose situation if ever there was one!   Walk round the pond today and listen for the ghostly laments of its victims.

The Mugdock Anti-aircraft battery overlooking Glasgow

The Mugdock Anti-aircraft battery overlooking Glasgow

From a war much nearer our own time are the silent remains of the Mugdock anti-aircraft gunsite built in 1942 in the aftermath of the Clydebank Blitz. This gun emplacement was part of a series of anti-aircraft batteries constructed around the Clyde Basin to protect the heavy industries in and around Glasgow. The nearby Nissen huts housed the army personnel stationed to man the guns, complete with showers and sleeping accommodation.

Michael Gambon and Iain Cuthbertson, the rugged stars of 'The Borderers'!

Michael Gambon and Iain Cuthbertson, the rugged stars of ‘The Borderers’!

But to go back to Mugdock Castle. Here’s a question: what’s the connection between Mugdock Castle and Michael Gambon? The answer: Gambon starred as heroic young Gavin Ker of Slitrig,  in the 1960s/70s television series The Borderers, which was filmed at Mugdock Castle. It was an exciting historical drama, set in the 16th century, which told the tale of the Warden of the Middle March (Iain Cuthbertson) and his family during the troubled and violent times of the Border Reivers. The Warden’s dashing young nephew, Gavin Ker, fought to protect his family and remain a decent man. It was stirring stuff!

So as you take that stroll in the park on a peaceful afternoon, stop for a moment and think about all that’s happened around you.  You’ll be surprised just how rich and varied the past has been!

Mugdock County Park

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